On Sunday, after I’d put away Thanksgiving decorations, we decided to begin setting out a few Christmas pieces to ready our home for the holiday. Every day, I’ve pulled out a new box and selected a few decorations to place in a window or on a mantel, noticing the stories all around me: stories behind every decoration and every piece of furniture where they’re placed…I cannot separate myself from these stories; my own accrue and add new layers to the objects until finally, everything shines with story.
Due to our new cat, Fergus, and his continued period of adjustment to our home, and us, and the 4-leggeds, we’ve decided that maybe a Christmas tree encrusted with all of our glass ornaments wouldn’t be such a great idea this year. In past years, the cats have enjoyed playing and resting on the quilt beneath the tree; this year, I’m afraid that feline power struggles might bring it all crashing down. Better to lower the odds, I think. There are plenty of ways to make the home festive without a tree, but we’ll miss it.
Fergus and the dogs are doing fine with their introductions; the other four cats (oh, God, I’ve become the Crazy Cat Lady) are struggling a bit more with the refinement of pecking order and ego assuagement. We have every reason to believe all will be well, but these relationships, these stories, will need to progress according to their own timing, and I think we owe our 4-leggeds all the time they need. Fergus is as placid as Buddha sitting in his kennel, despite the sniffs, spits, and indifference form his new siblings. He forbears.
When he’s alone with me in my office, he loves to sit beneath the computer screen and watch the birds through the picture window. He runs to the door when he hears the other cats; he yearns for community, it seems. He loves fearlessly.
Today, his siblings entered his private room and began to sniff and acquaint themselves with Eau de Fergus. Murphy and Mulligan were especially intrigued, meticulously conducting their version of a CSI, and covering every square inch of the room before accepting a treat.
Tonight, we’ll supervise a first face-to-face visit and see how it goes. We’re hopeful that by the time the New Year rolls around, we’ll have a larger, peaceful, and happy family. Fergus appears to be a force of love; he audaciously chose me on the trail one very cold, wet day and followed me home, and has never stopped exuding that charming trust and desire to connect. All creation, it seems, can reveal the Love of our Source. We often overlook, I think, the myriad ways those with whom we share the planet can teach us about love and loving.
I read that Pope Benedict XVI (“Buzz-Kill Ratzinger”) has written a new book in which he states there were no animals or angels present at the birth of Jesus, nor was that birth date calculated correctly. While I understand his point is to de-mythologize Jesus and place his life within a more historically exact context by removing the inaccurate embellishments that surround our handed-down version of Jesus’ birth, I also believe that for many people, the animals, shepherds, and angels are intrinsic to the story, especially for the young and young-at-heart. For Christians, this was a life like no other, a life that serves as a template, worthy of celebration, as all lives are, but one that was recognized as such from the start.
So rarely do we see the ways Love in-breaks and enters our world, causing unnoticed eruptions of hope and joy all around us. But once, more than two thousand years ago, some of us were actually paying attention. The story that celebrates the birth of one of us who got it right needs no updating or fact-checking; it was never about the angels or animals, but they pin it down in our imaginations and allow us to vicariously enter the birth and so the life, and so the dance of pure goodness modeled for us, however clumsily we misstep.
And when I do falter in my dance, I have always found animals whose love can lead me back to the path quicker than any sermon. Humans like Jesus are rare indeed; animals who love as selflessly as Jesus are not.
I believe we should be very cautious about re-writing well-known and beloved stories, and even Pope Benedict, a Vatican correspondent said, agrees that the traditions surrounding Christmas play a role in nurturing our grasp of the deeper truths the story reveals.
Our own stories, the ones we write with our lives, reveal their deeper truths, too, if we listen. This Christmas, we won’t have a tree, lit and splendid; instead, we’ll celebrate two stories: the birth of Jesus (which is the story of Love’s possibilities being born every day, always, in our hearts), and our story, too, about a tiny abandoned cat named Fergus, who loved everyone he met, and his new family, who had to learn more about loving so fearlessly.
It’s going to be a good story, I can tell: the echoes of other stories and the spirits of those we’ve loved will shine all around it…There will be many animals as featured characters in this new story, and I’m quite certain that on Christmas Eve, when we gather together for treats where the tree would have been, we’ll hear angels singing.